Administration sues poultry producer for gender discrimination

Administration sues poultry producer for gender discrimination
© Getty Images

The Obama administration is suing the world’s second-largest chicken producer.

The Labor Department announced Wednesday that it has filed a lawsuit against Pilgrim Pride Corp. over allegations that the company systematically discriminated against black and white women seeking employment at its Mount Pleasant processing facility from 2005 to 2007.

ADVERTISEMENT

Headquartered in Colorado, Pilgrim Pride holds more than $75 million in federal contracts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies.

“The company has won millions in federal contracts, but refuses to comply with anti-discrimination laws that apply to those contractors,” Patricia Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, said in a statement. “When contractors accept federal funds, they agree to take steps to make sure taxpayer money is never used to discriminate in hiring or employment — something Pilgrim’s Pride has failed to do.”

Under an executive order first signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 that’s been updated over the years, federal contractors are prohibited from discriminating against race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin when hiring employees. 

In its lawsuit, the Labor Department is demanding Pilgrim Pride hire the applicants it discriminated against for semi-skilled jobs and unskilled production jobs and pay them back pay with interest.

In addition to discrimination, the Labor Department claims the company failed to keep and preserve required personnel and employment records and did not properly conduct required analyses of whether its employment practices had an adverse impact on women or minority groups.

Pilgrim Pride is also accused of failing to show that the lifting requirements established for various positions were job-related and consistent with business necessities.

A company spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.  

This is the third lawsuit the Labor Department has brought against Pilgrim Pride for discriminatory hiring practices in less than a year.

In September, the agency sued the company for allegedly discriminating against black, white and female applicants for entry-level laborer and operations positions at its chicken plant in Athens, Ala. 

Less than 30 days later, it filed a second lawsuit accusing the company of turning down qualified black workers for entry-level jobs as laborers and operatives at its chicken plant in Marshville, N.C.

Pilgrim Pride defended its hiring practices in a statement Wednesday afternoon. The company said it's an equal opportunity employer and called the federal government’s use of statistical analyses to identify hiring shortfalls “misguided.”

“Significantly, not one of the thousands of Pilgrim’s applicants, nor any of the thousands of Pilgrim’s team members, have filed a single complaint with Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs in the past 11 years regarding Pilgrim’s hiring standards," the company said. “Legal actions such as this present no opportunity for true public-private partnerships that would benefit American workers of all orientations. We will vigorously defend our hiring practices at trial.”  

- This story was updated with a statement from Pilgrim Pride at 3:22 p.m.